A decade ago, few could have predicted that documentary features would become a staple of release schedules; even fewer might have imagined that a film about a typeface would be one of the genre’s most engaging entries. Director Gary Hustwit follows 2007’s Helvetica with another nonfiction work about the nature of art and taste, but Objectified sets itself a far broader remit: the ways in which design shapes, reflects and perhaps even saves modern society.
As in his previous movie, Hustwit eschews the dramatic-narrative approach to docs—sympathetic protagonist overcomes challenge—in favor of an essayistic style. It yields much to appreciate, not least the picture’s own admiration of the myriad objects that surround us, and the way their aesthetics have become increasingly divorced from functionality. (A martian could guess the purpose of a chair, but not an iPhone.) Hustwit talks to both ergonomically minded and theoretically driven designers, and engages the question of material sustainability—for decades the elephant in the well-appointed room.
But for all its intriguing observations, the documentary struggles to develop a strong argument about its subject, or to demonstrate the hidden cultural power of design in such a way as to make the subject compelling to those without a prior interest. It sure has some pretty things in it, though.—Ben Walters
Opens Fri; IFC. Find showtimes